Nov 23

European Union politicians have voted overwhelmingly to close a loophole that allows sharks to be slaughtered for their fins.

Photo of fisherman holding dorsal fin cut from scalloped hammerhead

Fisherman holding dorsal fin cut from scalloped hammerhead

The vote means that the shocking practice of slicing the fins off live sharks and discarding their bodies at sea will be outlawed, ending a loophole that rendered a nine-year-old finning ban effectively useless.

EU companies catch sharks in the Atlantic, Indian, Mediterranean and Pacific Oceans, and the EU is one of the largest exporters of shark fins to Asia. The fins are used to make shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy in some countries.

Photo of great hammerhead swimming up from seabed

The great hammerhead, classified as Endangered by the IUCN, is just one species in demand for its fins

Despite a ban on shark finning in 2003, a loophole allowed companies with freezer vessels to apply for special permits enabling them to continue fishing for shark fins if they landed the fins separately from the sharks’ bodies. The issuing of these permits unfortunately became standard practice, meaning companies could easily get around the ban.

Sharks under threat

Tens of millions of sharks are killed every year to meet the increasing demand for shark fin soup, despite many species being classified as threatened by the IUCN. Conservationists have welcomed the EU vote on finning, but warn that more still needs to be done to save sharks.

Photo of whale shark kept in shallow water by fishermen until it is ready to be slaughtered

Whale shark being kept in shallow water by fishermen until it is ready to be slaughtered

Parliament’s overwhelming support for strengthening the EU finning ban represents a significant victory for shark conservation in the EU and beyond,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation at the Shark Trust. “Because of the EU’s influence at international fisheries bodies, this action holds great promise for combating this wasteful practice on a global scale.”

According to Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, who has campaigned for years for the strengthening of the finning ban, “Shark finning is not only immoral but it is threatening the very survival of many native European species. It is astonishing to think that one-third of European sharks are classed as under threat – something I hope will now change.”

Photo of oceanic whitetip shark, anterior view

The oceanic whitetip shark is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN

Groups campaigning for the conservation of sharks will now turn their attention to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which is meeting in March next year to consider proposals from the EU and US to list commercially valuable but threatened shark species. Listing these species on CITES would mean that international trade in the sharks should be carefully monitored and controlled, or may be completely banned.

Read more on this story at The Guardian – EU to close shark finning loophole.

Find out more about shark conservation at The Shark Trust, Save our Seas Foundation and the IUCN Shark Specialist Group.

View photos and videos of sharks on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Nov 22

Switzerland-based Save Our Species (SOS), a flagship species conservation initiative, has announced that it has secured US $2.5 million to fund 25 vital new projects.

Dugong image

The enigmatic dugong is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Vital funding

A whole host of threatened species – from dolphins and dugongs to rhinos and river turtles – will benefit from this second round of conservation projects supported by the SOS initiative. A global coalition initiated by IUCN, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the World Bank, SOS has secured a large amount of funding to enable the implementation of a wide variety of conservation projects, focusing on both charismatic and lesser-known species.

With more funding available from a broader range of sponsors and donors, we can be much more efficient in addressing the current biodiversity crisis. That is why we are ramping up our efforts in promoting SOS to individuals and companies alike with the possibility to make online donations while also engaging with several progressive industry leaders,” said Dr Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of IUCN’s Global Species Programme and SOS Director.

White-bellied heron image

The Critically Endangered white-bellied heron is the second largest heron species in the world

Positive impact

Since its launch in 2010, SOS has not only had a positive impact on wildlife, but also on local communities. It has so far supported projects targeting more than 150 species listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the newly secured funding will go some way to conserving many more. However, SOS staff warn that much remains to be done.

The latest injection of US $2.5 million doubles the number of active SOS projects, but much more needs to be done in the field of species conservation,” said Dr Vié. Every year we receive more project proposals than we can possibly fund and the selection process is extremely challenging.

Urgent response

In response to the current biodiversity crisis, with one in three amphibians and one in four mammals at risk of extinction, SOS has adopted a species-focused approach to conservation. Through channelling capital into conservation projects which are deemed to be engaging as well as technically sound, well designed and cost effective, SOS aims to halt biodiversity loss and boost the resources available for conservation.

Siamese crocodile image

The Siamese crocodile is classified as Critically Endangered

Select species

The new SOS projects will be implemented by NGOs across the Americas, Africa and Asia, starting immediately. Among the latest list of SOS-funded ventures are the implementation of measures in Mexico to protect the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise species, a dugong conservation project in Mozambique, and a project to ensure the future survival of the Critically Endangered Siamese crocodile in Cambodia.

Through focusing on the protection of a target species, some of the proposed conservation measures will actually benefit several others in the process. For instance, a project aiming to enhance protection of the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino is set to contribute towards the conservation of several other threatened charismatic species, including the Sumatran elephant and the Sumatran tiger.

Long-beaked echidna image

The Critically Endangered western long-beaked echidna is one of many enigmatic species set to benefit from the latest SOS funding

Halting biodiversity loss

The welcome news from SOS comes just a few weeks after the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad, where 193 countries discussed ways of honouring their engagement to preserve nature and the services it provides. A recent report in Science calculated the cost of improving the status of threatened species up until 2020, quoting a figure of US $4 billion annually, and while this may seem like a monumental payout, this equates to just 1% of the value of ecosystems being lost each year.

We invite everyone who is interested and passionate about protecting the world’s animals and plants to join us and help answer the SOS call from the wild, so that we can do more for the amazing diversity of life on our planet on which our own lives depend so dearly,” said IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre.


Read more on this story at – Answering the SOS call from the wild: dolphins, rhinos, tigers and others to benefit from more funding.

Learn more about endangered species on ARKive.

Find out more about SOS – Save Our Species.


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Nov 19

The overall bird population in the UK has fallen by a staggering 44 million individuals since 1966, according to a new report.

Photo of male house sparrow on roof tiles

The house sparrow, a species which has declined dramatically in the UK in recent decades

The report, entitled ‘The State of the UK’s Birds 2012’, was put together by conservation organisations including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).

It found that while some species have increased in number, the populations of some common birds have declined dramatically. There are now an estimated 166 million birds nesting in the UK, compared to 210 million in 1966.

Commenting on the report, Dr Mark Eaton, an RSPB scientist, said, “It is shocking to think we’ve lost one in five of the individual birds that we had in the 1960s.”

Worrying declines

Among the worst hit species is the house sparrow, whose population has decreased by 20 million individuals since the 1960s – an average loss of 50 sparrows every hour. Although a slight increase has been reported since 2000, the causes of the overall decline remain unclear.

Photo of turtle dove pair perched on branch

The turtle dove is another species in serious decline in the UK

Birds that rely on farmland have also fared badly. The population of farmland birds is now less than half what it was in 1970, with species such as the lapwing, cuckoo and turtle dove suffering significant declines. Scientists believe that these declines are largely due to changes in the landscape which have removed suitable feeding and nesting habitat.

Some of the UK’s marine species are also in trouble. For example, two sea ducks, the long-tailed duck and the velvet scoter, have undergone large declines across Europe and are now globally threatened.

Not all bad news

The findings did reveal some more positive results, with some species showing large population increases. For example, the wood pigeon population has doubled in size since the 1970s, now standing at around 5.4 million nesting pairs, while species such as the bittern have recovered well from previous declines, largely as a result of focused conservation efforts.

Another species doing well is the great-spotted woodpecker, which has increased by 368% since the 1970s. Unfortunately, its smaller relative, the lesser spotted woodpecker, has dramatically declined and may now number fewer than 1,500 pairs, making its population too small for scientists to monitor properly.

Photo of female great-spotted woodpecker on tree

Great-spotted woodpecker, a species which has increased in the UK

It’s like the bird populations of the UK are on a roller-coaster, and we’ve seen a lot of ups and downs,” said Grahame Madge, an RSPB spokesperson. “We have more species breeding in the UK now than any other time in history… but we’ve got 44 million fewer individual birds nesting than in the 1960s.”

He went on to add that despite the success stories, the overall findings of the report were of concern. “When you see en masse that the UK has lost such a huge number of birds, the figures themselves are quite staggering,” he said.

UK Overseas Territories

The report also looked at the state of birds in the UK’s Overseas Territories, which hold some of the world’s most vulnerable birds, including Critically Endangered species such as the St Helena plover, Tristan albatross and Gough bunting. Many of these species face a range of threats, from oil spills and fishery bycatch to human developments and volcanic eruptions.

Photo of northern rockhopper penguin pair at nest

The report also looked at species in the UK Overseas Territories, including the northern rockhopper penguin

There is also concern for the northern rockhopper penguin. Over 80% of this penguin’s population occurs on the UK Overseas Territories of Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island, but worrying population declines of over 90% have been recorded in these two locations.

Citizen science

Most of the information upon which the report was based comes from the efforts of volunteers who contribute to national monitoring schemes, such as the Breeding Bird Survey and Wetland Bird Survey.

According to Dr Tim Hill, Natural England’s Chief Scientist, “The State of the UK’s Birds report is a great example of ‘citizen science’ in action… Such schemes provide a high quality evidence base underpinning the work of government, conservation organisations and land managers in their joint efforts to conserve the natural environment and its wildlife.”

Photo of bittern in flight

The bittern population is recovering in the UK thanks to conservation efforts

David Stroud of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) said, “This report highlights the value of undertaking a periodic ‘stock-check’ of bird numbers in the UK – information central to many aspects of conservation. Thanks to the efforts of the bird watching community, such assessments are readily available within the UK, but these data do not exist for most of our Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. We need to strengthen efforts to establish routine survey and monitoring in these areas in the light of their global importance for many bird species.”

Read more on this story at BBC Nature News, The Guardian and the RSPB.

Read the full report at The State of the UK’s Birds 2012.

View photos and videos of birds from the UK on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Nov 17

Species: Great hammerhead  (Sphyrna mokarran)

Great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) photo

Great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The great hammerhead can sometimes be cannibalistic, with larger adults preying on juveniles.

The great hammerhead is found in warm temperate and tropical waters around the world. During summer, these sharks migrate towards the poles in search of cooler waters. A true ocean predator, the great hammerhead preys on stingrays, groupers, small, bony fish, crabs, squid, other sharks and lobsters. Feeding mainly at dusk, the great hammerhead locates prey using an electro-sensory system which can sense the weak electric field produced by all living organisms.

Although not fully understood, the hammer is thought to help the shark scan larger areas of the ocean floor for food, and that it maximises the area of the sensory organs (known as the ampullae of Lorenzini) that can detect chemical, physical and thermal changes in the water, as well as electric fields.

The great hammerhead is threatened by overfishing. Its fins are used for shark fin soup, liver oil for vitamins, skin for leather, and its meat for fishmeal. Fortunately, the increasing recognition of these threats has led to the implementation of finning bans by fishing states in the U.S.A., Australia and the European Union. Bycatch limits for sharks in the South African longline fishery are also helping to conserve this endangered species.

Find out more about hammerhead sharks on the BBC Nature Website.

See videos and images of the great hammerhead on ARKive.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher

Nov 16

A group of Tasmanian devils is to be transferred to a small offshore island in the hope of creating a self-sustaining population, free from the disease that is threatening the survival of the species.

Photo of a pair of juvenile Tasmanian devils at the entrance to the den

Juvenile Tasmanian devils at entrance to den

Found only in Tasmania, the Tasmanian devil population has been decimated in recent years by a highly contagious facial cancer. The cancer is spread through bites when the animals fight, and typically causes death within three to six months. Few disease-free areas now remain, and the Tasmanian devil population has plummeted by a staggering 91%.

Insurance population

In a desperate attempt to save this iconic species from extinction, 14 individuals are to be released on Maria Island, a national park off Tasmania’s east coast. The animals will be carefully selected from captive breeding programmes across Australia which have been set up to try and prevent the Tasmanian devil from dying out.

Photo of Tasmanian devil with Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD)

Tasmanian devil with Devil Facial Tumour Disease

The Maria Island translocation is designed to establish a self-sustaining population of healthy wild devils in a safe haven where they are protected from interaction with the deadly facial tumour disease,” said Brian Wightman, Tasmania’s Environment Minister. “It will strengthen the insurance population of disease-free Tasmanian devils, help preserve wild traits in the insurance population and provide genetic stock for future reintroductions.”

Last resort

A rugged island that can only be reached by boat or plane, Maria Island has never before been home to Tasmanian devils, so there should be no risk of disease. Experts believe the animals are unlikely to impact other native species on the island, although the ecosystem will be carefully monitored.

Photo of adult and juvenile Tasmanian devils fighting

The contagious cancer is spread through bites when Tasmanian devils fight over food and territory

According to Australia’s Environment Minister, Tony Burke, transferring the devils is a last resort, and has to be performed with good scientific oversight. All the animals will be carefully screened before they are released.

If the transfer is successful, scientists plan to increase the number of Tasmanian devils on Maria Island to about 50 over the next 2 years.

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Australia’s Tasmanian devils to get fresh start on new island.

View photos and videos of Tasmanian devils on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author


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